That’s a clickbait title, and I’m not even ashamed of it.
Patch 6.1 for World of Warcraft is approaching, and the datamining has begun. Mostly, this has turned up the sort of things one would expect from the first content patch of an expansion cycle — new daily quests, a continuation of the legendary storyline, system and class tweaks.
But one thing unusual was uncovered, and it’s received surprisingly little attention considering what big news it could be. There is now a new account type listed: veteran.
What’s really interesting is that veteran accounts currently seem to have much the same restrictions as starter edition accounts, the “free to play” accounts that only let you get to level twenty.
Why would a “veteran” account need those restrictions?
Now, here’s where I need to throw up the usual disclaimer about datamining. Blizzard has announced nothing, and it is entirely possible that these veteran accounts are just something Blizzard experimented with and that absolutely nothing will come of this. Even if veteran accounts do turn out to be a thing, they might turn out to be something completely different from what they currently appear to be.
But speculation is fun, so let’s see how far down the rabbit hole we can go.
This is a huge change. That would essentially mean that WoW is transitioning from a subscription game to a buy to play title similar to The Secret World, albeit one with a fairly punitive business model that still requires a subscription to be played to its fullest.
That would hardly be unheard of, though. Star Wars: The Old Republic bills itself as free to play, but really you have to subscribe if you want to play the game in any serious way.
I’m not sure how I feel about this hypothetical buy to play WoW. Regular readers are by now familiar with my passionate hatred of mandatory subscriptions, but as a general rule, punitive business models where you’re crippled if you don’t pay aren’t much of an improvement.
The optimistic part of me thinks that maybe the veteran accounts have the same restrictions as starter accounts because the code was repurposed, and if and when the feature is live, they’ll have fewer limitations.
But given Blizzard’s rather ruthless attitude towards monetizing WoW to date, Heroes of the Storm’s less than stellar business model, and the fact that WoW is a big enough name to get away with pretty much anything, I don’t consider that likely.
However, I can still see upsides to such a change.
The biggest problem with subscriptions is not the expense, but the fact that it makes your participation in the game an all or nothing proposition. If I’m not spending the majority of my gaming time on a title, then the expense of the subscription doesn’t feel worth it. But just because you don’t want to live in a game doesn’t mean you don’t want to play it at all.
I’m not subscribed to WoW right now. I disagree with many of the decisions made by Blizzard recently, so the expense of a new expansion and a subscription doesn’t feel worth it for me.
But I’m at the point now where I’m starting to miss the world and my characters. Not enough to shell out $70+, but enough that I would love to be able to log on for an hour or two every few days.
If I had the option to still play WoW without a sub, even with restrictions placed on me, I’d probably take it. I would love to be able to still solo raids and fiddle around with alts when the mood strikes me without feeling the need to justify the price of an expansion and a subscription.
That brings us to the question of how likely this is. I find it hard to judge.
On the one hand, mandatory subscriptions are a dying breed and have been for a long time now. WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online were the last great hope of subscription fans, but WildStar is by all reports barely clinging to life, and there are already many hints of a business model change for ESO. None but the most die-hard fans think those games will keep their subscriptions much longer, and the consensus is it would be a big mistake if they did.
WoW has been hemorrhaging subscribers for a long time now. There may have been an uptake with the launch of Warlords of Draenor, but that’s not likely to last. It’s probably about time for a change in tactics.
I’ve gone on record as saying I think WoW would no longer have a mandatory subscription around the time the expansion after WoD launches. Granted, I’ll be the first to admit I pulled that time out of my behind, but the mentions of these veteran accounts are showing up around the time I expected Blizzard to start reconsidering the sub model.
And yes, datamining often does uncover odd things that never amount to anything, but Blizzard didn’t put these strings in for nothing. They are — or at least were — experimenting with new account types, and I struggle to imagine what a restricted “veteran” account could be other than a way to play without a subscription.
The one other possibility that comes to mind is that the veteran accounts may be linked to Blizzard’s announced plans to copy EVE Online’s PLEX and allow players to purchase digital subscription tokens and the sell them in-game, allowing those rich in real world wealth to buy gold legally and the virtually wealthy to play for free. Veteran accounts may be the tag for those who pay their sub with gold.
But then why the restrictions? True, my “repurposed code” theory could explain that, too, but even then, why require a separate tag at all for such accounts? Generally the whole point of a PLEX system is to give those who pay with in-game currency the exact same status as a traditional subscriber.
And there is nothing else in the datamining related to this proposed WoW PLEX system. So the idea of veteran accounts being for those who pay their subscriptions with gold doesn’t seem very plausible.
Despite my rampant speculation, I am taking this all with a huge grain of salt, and I advise you to do the same. I would not be much surprised if the datamined veteran accounts turn out to be nothing at all, or at least something totally different from what I’m imagining.
But it does raise interesting possibilities, doesn’t it?